Archive for 2012
Class sizes have risen for a fifth straight year across the school system, a new Department of Education report shows.
Overall, the increase was 1.6 percent, or an average four tenths of a student per class. High schools had the largest gain.
The department put the report out at the end of the day Friday, Dec. 15 — the same day as the Newtown, CT shootings — assuring it would get virtually no coverage.
But the facts are disturbing. Class sizes have been rising steadily in virtually every grade since the 2007-08 school year, with elementary grades hit particularly hard. The average 1st grade class has 3.7 more students now than it did in 2007, and the average 3rd grade has 4.2 more children. Class sizes are a central concern for parents and teachers, while the mayor has said they could double as far as he was concerned.
In response to a recent UFT survey, 56 percent of teachers said their class sizes were so large that it interfered with their ability to reach all their students.
Each year the UFT awards $1 million in scholarships to academically excellent and financially eligible New York City public high school seniors through the Albert Shanker College Scholarship Fund. To receive a $5,000 scholarship from the fund, those selected must be accepted in a full-time, matriculated, degree-granting program at an accredited college or university. Encourage eligible students to take advantage of this great opportunity by applying for a scholarship. You can get more information and application materials on the UFT website. The deadline for schools to mail the application is Jan. 31, 2013.
Highlights from the latest issue of New York Teacher:
UCAN — and they do
UCAN. It stands for Uniting Communities and Neighborhoods, and it’s a new good-will project in the Bronx that has dozens of UFT members hammering or cleaning or beautifying or just playing games with children at a shelter.
Stress takes a holiday
Thanksgiving took on new meaning for the students and staff from PS/MS 105 in storm-ravaged Far Rockaway when their welcoming hosts at JHS 72 in Jamaica invited them to share a preholiday Community Feast — turkey and all the trimmings.
UFT creates hurricane hotline
A Hurricane Sandy hotline is now part of the UFT’s continuing and expanding outreach to members who need assistance in the wake of the devastating late-October storm.
Second Day of Action helps storm victims recover
Marking another UFT Day of Action on Saturday, Nov. 17, nearly 1,000 volunteers traveled to the city neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy or came to UFT headquarters to help stuff backpacks with supplies for displaced students.
Midwinter break shortened due to Sandy
State law and regulations mandate that New York City public school teachers make up three of the instructional days lost due to Hurricane Sandy. Schools will be open the last three days — Wednesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, Feb. 22 — of the city school system’s usual weeklong midwinter break.
Fighting the testing obsession
The push by so-called education reformers for increased testing of students in the nation’s public schools is facing growing opposition from concerned parents and committed educators who understand that high-stakes exams can never substitute for real student learning.
Academy not turning out good leaders
The city Department of Education has finally admitted that its Leadership Academy is not doing a good enough job of recruiting, developing and producing top-notch principals to lead New York City’s high-needs schools.
Leaving no child behind — for real this time
Policy advisers are calling on Obama to actually grapple with child poverty and its effects on students instead of tinkering with accountability measurement.
Supporting students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms
With the special education reform in full swing, many of us teachers — especially general education teachers — will find ourselves teaching students with disabilities and possibly collaborating with special education teachers.
Were they the good old days or the bad old days? Back then, if a kid wanted to hang in the street, flop at home, or binge in some way, all he had to do was break a school rule to get suspended from the building for five days, maybe more. It was an “out of sight, out of mind” deal in which teacher and student got a hiatus from each other, equivalent to (though lacking moral equivalency) a vacation.
Then came the Alternate Learning Centers (ALCs). Suddenly, educational deprivation was no longer a viable tool for attitudinal correction. And the notion of building kids’ characters by temporarily starving them of communal learning opportunity began to go the way of Twinkies.
There are almost 40 ALCs citywide, located in all boroughs. They are longer or shorter-term suspension sites, depending on the cause of their suspension. These sites serve students who are on superintendent suspensions, not principal suspensions.
Superintendent suspensions for 2011-2012 declined by 12 percent from the previous year to 13,258. That represents just under one-fourth the number of principal suspensions for the same year.
Some ALCs have their own location; others share a school building, though their student populations don’t mingle. All of them are serious places for teaching and learning. Expectations are enforced with kindness and firmness. The atmosphere is not punitive, though no unreasonable excuses or “getting over” on authority are tolerated.
The students have been suspended but there is no suspension of the continuity of instruction. ALCs are not warehouses or receptacles for so-called “problem kids.” Regardless of a student’s length of stay and his age or academic level, he’s got a variety of curriculum-based material to study. More »
High School Progress Reports, which the Department of Education released on Nov. 26, have yet another new way to measure schools: the college and career readiness index, which now counts for 10 percent of a school’s grade.
As if the 2011 reports, at 205 columns of Excel data per school was not enough, the 2012 reports arrived on a 305-column spreadsheet, boasting 39 new columns of college and career readiness data points. That doesn’t count the “additional information,” 72 columns of supplemental data, in case the first 39 didn’t quite get at everything you wanted to know about college readiness.
Give them points for trying. But some of this data is going to wind up in “deleted items” and never get crunched.
Even the DOE didn’t try. It didn’t put out PowerPoint slides or anything that summarizes (or spins) the information.
So here are some general findings — calculations in most cases are by UFT, not DOE.
The three parts of the college readiness index show
- 29 percent of students graduated “college ready” in 2012, meaning they scored at least 75 on the English Regents and 80 on the math, OR got at least 480 on their SATs. That is up from 25 percent last year.
- 34 percent of students passed a “rigorous” exam, such as an AP, advanced Regents or CTE test.
- 50 percent of recent graduates had enrolled in college after six months and 55 percent had done so after 18 months.
The DOE boasts that the new high schools created under Mayor Bloomberg have higher grades than older high schools. Using data on 170 new schools created since 2002, we actually found college readiness is much higher in the “old” schools — 30 percent compared to 20 percent in the new schools — and the college and career readiness index was a full grade higher in the old schools.
While the DOE boasts that the new schools have higher progress report scores, the difference is slight. In addition, the graduation rate was slightly higher in the old schools this year by our calculations. (We excluded the separate transfer high schools list from our analysis.)
Comparison of Schools Created under Bloomberg and Older Schools
|% Students College Ready
|College/Career Ready Score (Grade)
|Progress Report Overall Score
Finally, one very encouraging finding: though the official graduation rate won’t be out for months, it looks like the city came very close to a 70% on-time graduation rate for 2012, up from 65.5 percent in 2011, including August grads.
As for the remaining 300 or so Excel columns, data geeks can go here: http://schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/tools/report/default.htm
Highlights from the latest issue of New York Teacher:
Resupplying relocated students with 30,000 backpacks
Calling it the “best of New York City coming together” UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised the efforts of educators, administrators, elected officials and corporate citizens who all pulled together with the goal of raising $1.5 million to deliver 30,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to students whose schools were flooded by Hurricane Sandy.
Members roll up their sleeves
Idea to help in lieu of Election Day PD was born on UFT Facebook page
Hundreds of educators across the city spent Nov. 6 bringing water, blankets and baby supplies to hurricane shelters, walking up 15 flights of stairs in public housing to assess needs, doing demolition work on homes that were flooded, shoveling sand off the Coney Island boardwalk so emergency vehicles could get through and bringing hope and help to those who needed it most.
Repaying a debt
Upstate teachers volunteer to help rebuild Staten Island town
They arrived on Staten Island in a bus from Schoharie in upstate New York, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, sneakers or workboots, carrying shovels and crowbars and hammers and utility knives in their workgloved hands. “We came here to work,” one said. “Let’s get started.”
Hundreds of UFT members turn out for Day of Action
Hundreds of UFT members, bolstered by four busloads of members of the union’s national affiliate — the American Federation of Teachers fanned out across the city to assist with the Hurricane Sandy cleanup and recovery effort on Nov. 10, the first of several Saturday Days of Action being organized by the UFT.
Two taken from us by the storm
Two dedicated UFT members lost their lives in Hurricane Sandy. They are Jessie Streich-Kest, a first-year teacher and activist with a wide circle of deep friendships; and Henry Sullivan, a longtime Abraham Lincoln HS teacher known for his generosity, integrity and humor.
Dealing with the trauma
UFT’s Election Day PD switches focus after storm
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the organizers of the UFT’s Election Day safety training quickly refocused the agenda to make it relevant to chapter leaders returning to schools after the storm. They learned about how to address the short- and long-term trauma from the natural disaster affecting both students and staff.
Hard work pays off in national, state elections
Election Day was sweet for UFT members who had worked so hard in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6 to get out the vote for President Barack Obama in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, in a critical Senate race in Connecticut, as well as in key state races.
UCP workers win contract just before strike deadline
Poised to strike if a new agreement were not reached by Oct. 15, workers at United Cerebral Palsy of New York City beat that deadline by one day and then ratified a new contract in the final days of the month.
The best thing to happen to democracy in recent years may be the popularity of blogs. They’re especially influential in politics and education. Anyone can access everyone these days. The marketplace of ideas is wide open. Edwize is, of course, the UFT’s blog. But the views contained in the following piece are solely those of the author and are independent of the UFT’s positions and policies.
Remember Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and unflappable former front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination until he blew his chances during a debate by plumb forgetting the name of the federal agency that he had sworn a thousand times to destroy? It was a helluva “aw shucks” moment for the supporter of state-sponsored murder.
But last year he showed leadership, for better or worse, in a way that is both highly uncharacteristic and typical of him. He signed into law a bill that extended rights to teachers but at the expense of their students. Whether that trade-off is fair is the question I pose to you.
That law requires that law enforcement agencies provide superintendents with criminal histories of students and that the details, including those of parolees and juvenile records (which are confidential in most states), be shared in writing with teachers.
According to the Texas Youth Commission, around 300 of the more than 4, 200 violators who were paroled from the state juvenile system to enter Texas public schools had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault or robbery.
What is the more compelling priority: safeguarding teachers from an epidemic of violence or allowing students the chance to break free from the scars and stigma of their past and move on to a productive future? More »
After a week without classes, my 5th-graders filed back into school. Fortunately for my class, no one had been directly affected by Hurricane Sandy beyond some minor power outages, though others in our school were not as lucky. But that is not to say we didn’t feel the effects of this tragedy in a very personal way.
My students’ eyes were full of conflicting emotions — a mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement from having experienced something so new to them, from knowing they had survived a powerful threat, and from hours of storm-related news coverage that was far beyond their 10-year-old understanding of the world. Fear about whether it was appropriate to ask questions of their teachers, about whether everyone they knew had weathered the storm safely and — especially after the onslaught of emotions they had seen in their own families — about whether they were safe yet themselves.
They had heard some schools were still closed, and the instability of childhood’s most important institution was terrifying. They had heard some teachers were not ready to come back to our school, and the vulnerability of their authority figures destroyed their sense of security. They had heard that many people, even children, had not made it through the storm, and the fragility of human life was completely overwhelming to them.
Questions and feelings quickly flooded out, unfiltered. Did I know anyone who had been killed? Did my house get swept away? Did I see all the people crying and screaming on TV? Did I hear about the kids who had been washed away from their mother? Wasn’t it exciting to have a week off? Wasn’t it boring to have a week off? The news says another storm’s coming next week — I hope we get to miss school again! The news says another storm’s coming next week — I hope I’m not stuck at home with my brother again! What’s a FEMA? What’s a nor’easter? What’s a storm surge? Why can’t we build walls? Why aren’t the subways running? Why does Mayor Bloomberg talk so much? Why does his Spanish sound so funny?
I did not feel prepared to help counsel these wonderful boys and girls back into the safety of their school routine, but I was ready to try. We began the day with a discussion of the tragic nature of the storm, focusing on which emotions were appropriate to project as we shared stories about something that was so painful for so many people. Giving my students a safe place to share their thoughts and experiences was the first step toward healing our tattered emotions.
We followed that discussion with a social studies lesson on the path of the storm and the many different communities that were affected, and a science lesson on how hurricanes are formed. After discussing ways we could help people we know who are still trying to recover, especially some of the teachers in our own school who had lost their homes, we wrote letters and engaged in a schoolwide drive to collect resources. The boys and girls in my class really rose to the occasion — I have never been more proud of my students.
After lunch, we went back to our regular schedule to establish a sense of normalcy and learn the daily math lesson. With our emotions and community on the road to recovery, we turned our attention toward healing the tattered pacing calendar, one of the many casualties of the tragic storm.
Mr. Thompson is the pseudonym of a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. If you’re interested in writing a New Teacher Diary entry for Edwize, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highlights from the latest issue of New York Teacher:
Answering the call
Thousands of UFT members volunteer at evacuation sites to help victims of Hurricane Sandy
While Hurricane Sandy was still swirling around the Caribbean, the UFT was already reaching out to members to tell them how they could volunteer when the storm hit New York. And they volunteered — by the thousands. UFT members spent days and nights in 76 hurricane shelters, most in city public schools, helping however they could.
Tough return for members, students
Despite the enormous challenges still facing New Yorkers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, most teachers and students, many of them storm victims themselves, headed back to school on Monday, Nov. 5 bundled up against the cold in those buildings still without heat.
How to get assistance
Although the storm has subsided, the devastation left in its wake is tremendous. The UFT is marshaling its resources and providing services to our members and their families who have been affected by the storm.
Manhattan district schools protest Moskowitz co-locations
“Hey, Eva, we’re no fools! We won’t let you ruin our schools!” chanted more than 70 teachers from the six schools on the Washington Irving Campus, near Manhattan’s Union Square, as they rallied on the campus steps on Oct. 18 against the possible co-location of a new Success Academy charter school inside their building.
Mayor’s EarlyLearn NYC a travesty, providers say
Parents, children and child care providers have been left in chaos in the wake of the Oct. 1 launch of EarlyLearn NYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s long-anticipated and ambitious overhaul of New York City’s early childhood education services, according to officials at the UFT, which represents 21,000 family child care providers.
UFT: Where’s the curriculum?
A high-level gubernatorial commission on education reform on Oct. 16 got a rapid-fire earful from UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who warned that most teachers still do not have the curricula to prepare students for new state assessments this year that will incorporate challenging Common Core Learning Standards.
UFT: Special ed reform ‘pilot’ had weak results
Students with disabilities in schools that piloted the Department of Education’s new special education reform actually showed less improvement in performance over the last two years than their peers in other schools, a UFT analysis has found.
President’s Perspective: Thank you for staying strong
Teams of UFT members were volunteering in some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods, including the Rockaways, Coney Island, Staten Island and Gerritsen Beach, having volunteered to spend Election Day bringing relief to their fellow New Yorkers.
Thousands of UFT members rose to the occasion in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, serving admirably in evacuation centers across the city and providing comfort and solace to our fellow New Yorkers. But many other members were severely affected by the storm and the recovery process will be a long one. Please help UFT members and their families by donating to the UFT Disaster Relief Fund.
Make a secure online donation here »
If you are a UFT member who was severely affected by the storm, or you know one who was, please fill out the UFT Urgent Assistance Form and the union will do whatever it can to get you the support that you need.
UFT Urgent Assistance Form »
A poem by Terry Fauvell, 8th-grade teacher at PS/IS 266, Queens.
Never “Great job today,”
“You gave your colleague great advice,”
“Your plans look like
the models that the city sent,”
“Your former student said
Just “No ‘Do Now’ on the board,”
“Where’s your teaching point?”
“Saw no elaboration,
“Put those standards up!”
They try and try
To break our spirits,
Break our union,
Break our minds.
But we remember
Who we are,
What we are,
Why we are
Doing what we do
Despite all the difficulties
So we stand up,
And don’t let them beat us down.
A hard plastic pencil case hits the floor with a resounding thwonk. As pencils and pens clatter across the linoleum, children duck to retrieve them. The abrupt noise momentarily silences the chatter of six-year olds, adding a percussive flourish to the classroom soundtrack that heralds the start of a new school year.
“As if this batch of freshly minted first-graders weren’t noisy enough,” I think, and silently curse the school supply store that prices hard pencil cases so irresistibly to the parents of schoolchildren.
I have twenty-seven new faces in my self-contained, English as a Second Language classroom this year. Even though I am entering my sixth year of teaching self-contained ESL in elementary school, very little seems rote. My students speak five different home languages, and each child exhibits a unique and complex personality. Every time I am faced with a new class, it feels, well, new, because I have to learn all about these living, breathing entities, sitting sloppily in front of me.
I spend the first few days of school wishing I had my old kids again: Karen the desk roving perfectionist, the shy and grateful Julio, and even the class braggart, William, who learned over ten long months, how not to step all over the feelings of his classmates.
Last year’s students, however, have blossomed over the summer into taller and wiser second-graders. Some have even tested out of ESL, and now sit in mainstream classrooms.
That is how we ESL teachers measure success. More »
Highlights from the October 18 issue of New York Teacher:
Union in high gear for Nov. 6 elections
In addition to its push to help re-elect President Barack Obama, the UFT is working to elect a number of state lawmakers on Nov. 6 who will support public schools, unions and the needs of teachers, parents and children.
Addabbo wins UFT’s backing
With many important state Senate races in November, the UFT on Sept. 24 enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Addabbo Jr. for re-election for a third term representing the 15th Senate District in Queens. The incumbent faces a well-financed GOP challenger.
President’s Perspective: An inspirational trip
The members in Florida with whom I spoke each phrased it differently, but they told me the same thing: The stark differences between the candidates made it a clear and easy choice. Although we have not always agreed with him, President Obama is the candidate who will move our country forward into the future.
Green machine: New Bronx high school gives leg up on growing field of new energy technology
Teachers are excited, parents are thrilled, and “students can’t wait to begin building things,” said Aldrich Crowe, a teacher at the new HS for Energy and Technology in the Bronx. Creating a school focused on careers in green engineering and sustainable building technology is an idea whose time has come.
UFT contract dispute moves to fact-finding
The New York State Public Employment Relations Board on Oct. 3 appointed a three-member fact-finding panel to take testimony, hold hearings and issue a report and recommendations in an effort to resolve the contract dispute between the Department of Education and the UFT. The UFT contract expired on Oct. 31, 2009.
Union blasts city on rising class sizes
Roughly 225,000 — or nearly a quarter of the New York City school system’s students — spent part or all of their first days in school in overcrowded classes, according to a UFT survey released on Sept. 25.
Brooklyn charter teachers ratify innovative first contract
The UFT and the board at the Fahari Academy Charter School have agreed to a first-ever contract at the school. The three-year contract, which was unanimously ratified on June 29 by the staff, will go into effect during the 2012–2013 school year and cover the teachers and teachers’ assistants at the middle school, which is located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
‘A’ giant leap: After getting F last year, UFT-represented charter in Bronx is thriving
Teachers, parents and students were beaming with pride at the UFT-represented Bronx Academy of Promise’s board meeting on Oct. 9 after learning that their school was one of just three schools citywide to move from an F to an A on its annual School Progress Report. The A grade should help the school as it seeks a five-year renewal of its charter.
Double number of guidance counselors, comptroller says
City Comptroller John Liu on Oct. 4 called for more than doubling the number of high school guidance counselors in city schools. He faulted the lack of hands-on academic and college counseling from an overworked and undersized counseling staff for the fact that just one in five city high school graduates finishes college.
‘We’re ready!’: Newest UFT ad stresses dedication of city’s public school educators
“We’re ready,” a cast of five New York City public school teachers told local TV audiences in a 30-second UFT television ad that blanketed prime-time broadcast and cable spots from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7.
In 1999 and 2000, Adidas ran a series of series of running apparel advertisements using the motto “Runners. Yeah, we’re different.” One such ad featured a naked runner, covered in mud, changing his soaked clothing outside of his car as two onlookers gaped at him from a distance. Another Adidas spot displayed a family in the car with a huge, multi-child running stroller attached to the roof. The message, of course, is that runners are much different than “average” people.
Likewise, the UFT could easily put together its own ad campaign: “Teachers. Yeah, we’re different.” Some snapshots from my first week as a fourth-year social studies teacher in the Bronx could provide some material for these commercials. To wit:
— On the first day of school, I surveyed my eighth-grade students on a variety of topics by asking for a show of hands. When I asked, “How many of you think teachers are smart?,” about three-quarters of the students raised their hands. When I followed that up by asking, “How many of you think teachers are poor?,” about nine-tenths of the hands shot up. My intention was to show students that being educated could lead you to a prosperous life. When I saw my students’ perceptions of teachers, I could only laugh.
Teachers. Yeah, we’re different. More »
At a time when the question of how to best serve our neediest students at all schools is a key focus at the local and national levels, media analyses of the impact of student attrition at charters and district schools can be a useful contribution to the discussion. Unfortunately, an article recently published by SchoolBook misses the key point of this question in its failure to acknowledge that charter attrition’s effects come not from the number or type of students who leave, but from most charters’ decisions not to replace those students.
Gary Miron did a great job addressing this issue in his recent study on KIPP, and Mathematica recently confirmed some of his key findings (though they argued that the impact of these practices were relatively minimal).
In general, Miron and others have shown that both urban charters and urban district schools serve populations with high rates of student mobility — every year, relatively high percentages of students change schools in New York and other cities, and students who change schools (in general) tend to be lower achieving and have higher needs. This is what the SchoolBook article focuses on — if you just look at the percentage and type of students who leave schools in any given year, you’re not going to find big differences between district and charter schools.
The key difference is that in district schools, the students who transfer out are replaced by equally needy students who transfer in, including in higher grades. Overall, this keeps enrollment numbers and overall percentages of high-need students fairly stable — in a K-5 district school, if you have 50 kindergartners arrive in 2012, you’ll see roughly 50 5th graders graduate six years later. Not all those students will have started as kindergartners, but those who left will have been replaced by students with fairly similar demographics and achievement levels.
In contrast, even charter advocates admit that most charters choose not to replace students who leave with incoming transfer students, especially in upper grades. This means that at charters, the neediest students are the most likely to leave before graduation, but either they aren’t replaced or they’re replaced in very limited numbers. This is why you’ll often tend to see graduating classes at charters which are much smaller than entering classes.
Based on what we know about the demographics of students who transfer compared to those who stay in schools, the upper-grade students who remain in a charter with high attrition will tend to be those with relatively lower needs and higher academic achievement. In NYC, we’ve shown that the charter middle schools with the highest attrition and non-replacement rates are also the same ones which show the greatest increases in scores in their highest grades. The Mathematica study showed that at KIPP, incoming transfer students tended to come in with higher achievement levels than students who transferred into district schools, a pattern also noted by the principal of the charter school highlighted in the SchoolBook article when discussing his school’s test score increases.
The other element of this that the article doesn’t fully address is the impact of the different discipline codes at the charters. The quotes from the parents and charters leaders in the article are fairly contradictory on this point — they acknowledge that disagreements about discipline were a primary factor in making these students leave the school, but don’t define this as being “kicked out.” The lack of a good way to either measure (1) how frequently these “nudge out” transfers happen or (2) the impact the exit of students with discipline issues has on the remaining students’ academic performance are major problems with the research in this area. Some charters do have high rates of suspensions, but lower-level types of discipline are much harder to track.
Overall, the fact that this article doesn’t even acknowledge that practices around attrition and replacement represent a legitimate difference between charters and district schools makes its analysis significantly less useful and more misleading than those from the Charter School Center itself or the researchers at Mathematica — and very disappointing.